“You’re a libtard!”
The tall man in a white cowboy hat and plaid button-down shirt pointed an accusing finger at me. Someone else asked me why I didn’t eat meat. I replied that I didn’t feel comfortable eating something I wasn’t willing to kill, while carefully emphasizing my respect for hunters and those who were familiar with where their food comes from. White-hat was undeterred. He asked if I would listen to his position. I said yes, and that I would wait till he finished to explain mine. Thus began a rant about how “the good Lord created animals for us to eat”. He was saying the same thing over and over again, and I finally interjected. I explained that I had no problem with his views, that I would never dream of trying to take away his right to eat meat, and that I believe that we are predators and that it’s natural for us to eat meat. And though I had gone out of my way to explicitly state my respect for his views, he continued, unabated:
“We’re conservatives here! You libtards are trying to take away our right to eat meat, it’s black and white! We’re not predators, we’re superior beings, the good Lord created animals and the earth for us to use!”
Eventually, I had to walk away. He shouted after me, “You don’t have a point!”
Funny how this “conservative”, who should theoretically hold individual liberty and freedom of thought as the highest good, couldn’t handle a respectful difference of opinion (although, there wasn’t even a difference of opinion to speak of: I was trying to agree with him without explicitly embracing the idea that “the good Lord” made the animals just so we could eat them). It dawned on me as I walked away, indignant disbelief coursing through me like venom, that it was my very difference that he couldn’t accept: the fact that I didn’t believe and act exactly like him somehow threatened his way of life, his very existence. Now, to me that’s the hallmark of a pathetically weak and shallow belief system. And of course, I do hold the idea of an omnipotent creator god who put animals on the earth so they could be turned into Steakums and Slim Jims in absolute contempt. However, I’m able to separate the sin from the sinner, so to speak, and respect people for who they are, regardless of how ludicrous I find their beliefs. And perhaps that is the defining feature of my kind of liberalism that differentiates it from what I see around here: the ability to tolerate difference and allow that people who believe differently than I do might still be good people.
I also realized that White-hat’s brand of intolerance is mercifully, blessedly rare, at least in my experience. While people may be racist and sexist and homophobic in the abstract, it seems to me that the majority of people can lay their prejudices aside when it comes to individuals. I feel that people around here have respected me, and many of them have accepted me for who I am. What was so jarring about my encounter with Whitehat was his complete inability to hear me. I was telling him I agreed, telling him I respected him. And yet all he wanted to do was pick a fight with me – a woman.
When I told people about my encounter, they invariably told me it was the alcohol talking. That he was drunk and I should let it roll off my back. Which I strove mightily to do – after repeating the story to a few groups of people and attempting to get it off my chest.
And yet, it haunted me throughout the next day. Again and again in my mind I’d hear the snarled epithet “libtard!”, and it sickened my soul. That kind of savage disrespect and complete inability to relate to someone outside of one’s own narrow, patently ridiculous prejudices is the same force that gives rise to war, genocide and rape. I can only see it as a peculiar kind of insanity, one that, for some can be unlearned, but is in its most extreme manifestations probably in inherent trait.
I know that I can’t go through life with my head down for fear of encountering and riling people like this. While I am free with my opinion when it’s asked for, and welcome lively debate among equals, I’m fundamentally a peace-maker and want to foster understanding and avoid conflict. That’s why I walked away from Whitehat, disengaging myself from the confrontation. And while I can’t be sure – there were a couple of tall guys with white hats on, and it was dark – I think the same belligerent right-wing Whitehat gave me a light later on that evening.